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Helmdon Historical Articles

an article by Margaret Fonge
Bridges in his History of Northamptonshire describes Stuchbury as having neither church nor town, but says there had been a town there at one time but it had been destroyed by the Danes. Stuchbury is situated in the lovely undulating country of Northamptonshire Wolds and is a parish of 1,023 acres, bounded on the north by Sulgrave, on the west by Marston St Lawrence, on the east by Helmdon and on the south by Greatworth. The site of the old village is on the north side of a broad valley cut into upper Lias clay, with limestone overlaid with boulder clay on the higher slopes. This geological formation is the cause of the many springs that one finds and areas of marshy ground. It would seem that the original town or "tun" would be of Anglo-Saxon origin and dating back to the late 6th or early 7th century for the boundaries of this village are for the most part the Saxon double hedge banks. It was during the 6th century that Britain was invaded by the Anglo-Saxons. They settled first in the south of the country then pushed their way up into East Anglia and Midlands, for here with a altitude of over 400 feet the area was not only remote from the main channel of invasion, but heavily wooded and with a very fertile soil. Here a Saxon called Stut settled and the name of the place became Stut's burh, a burh being the defended manor of an Anglo Saxon. The word 'stut' meant a gnat or a midge and it was thought that this was this particular Saxon's nickname.

The Anglo-Saxons were good farmers and laid the foundations of our farming practice, families farming together in settlements, so founding the first villages or as they were called 'towns', but their strength lay not only in their love of the land, but as Arthur Bryant said "in their genius for co-operation", for they shared their farm implements, they worked shoulder to shoulder claiming the land from forest, united in their efforts to form a farming community. This was essentially the age of the plough, the land being farmed on the open field strip system. Woodland was gradually cleared to make way for the plough, and the Anglo-Saxon settlers cleared just as much as they needed for survival. The strips in the open field system were five yards wide and the length could vary according to the lie of the land, also to the management of what could sometimes be a plough team of eight oxen which needed skilful handling. The open fields often consisted of 'bundles' of these strips, and these bundles were known as furlongs, and ploughing was always done so that the furrow turned inwards to make a central ridge, the furrow between the five yard strips acting as a drain. Bundles of furlongs could often be set at right angles to one another, each furlong representing the amount of woodland reclaimed in any one year, and there is a classic example of this in the big Dairy Ground at the Manor Farm at Stuchbury. No man had all his strips together, so that good and bad land was equally divided, the entire land of the village often being divided into two or sometimes three big fields and Westfield or Westfyld is common among field names denoting land to the west of the village, and survived in Stutchbury from the days of medieval farming. The original village site is the area where Stutchbury Hall now stands, and the sunken roadway that leads from Stuchbury Hall down to the ford would have been the old village street and is a visible feature of a "lost village" site.

The name Stuchbury was originally derived from Stut's birth and the orthography has changed little over the centuries, for it was named in the Domesday book as Stotesberie, in 1155 it is Stutesbirie, in the Episcopal registers of 1223 it is Stuttebyri, and in the Charter Rolls circa 1220 it is Stotesbury. In the Patent Rolls of 1374 it is again Stotesbury, and in 1621 it is Stuchburie. It is interesting to note that in an ordnance survey map published earlier in this century it is spelt as Stuttesbury. Stuchbury was supposed to have been destroyed in a battle with the Danes but the only record of such a battle in this area was when Northampton was destroyed by them in the year 1010. It must be remembered that northern and central England had a large Scandinavian population which had integrated with the native population and that both in Yorkshire and Lincolnshire there were over two hundred villages with Scandinavian place names and over twenty in Northamptonshire. It may be that an event which took place in 1064 and is recorded in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle for that year may have been the cause of the village being destroyed. The following is an excerpt from the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle 1064. "In this year all the men of Northumberland came together and outlawed their Earl Tostig And they sent for Morcar son of Aelfgar and chose him as their earl, and he went with them south with all the people of the shire and of Nottingham and Derby until he came to Northampton, thereupon Earl Harold came to meet them and they entrusted him with a message to King Edward And the northern men did much damage while he was gone on their errand in that they killed people and burnt houses and corn and took all the cattle they could get at which was many thousands and captured many hundreds of people and took them north with them so that that shire and many other neighbouring shires were the worse for it for many years to come". After Stuchbury was destroyed Osmond the Dane held it freely as he did the neighbouring village of Thorpe Mandeville. It is interesting to note that the Northamptonshire Geld roll for the period 1068 to 1083 corroborates this destruction, for during that period the geldable units, that is to say the number of hides, a hide being approximately 120 acres, dropped in number in the county from 3,200 hides to 2,366 hides and this deterioration is attributed to the amount of "waste" owing to devastation described in the Anglo-Saxon Chronicle. Stuchbury, now in the hundred of King's Sutton but formerly in the hundred of Eadbaldesstowe, and this entry is in the geld roll "To Eadbaldesstowe hundred belong a hundred hides, as was the case in King Edward's time and of these twenty five have paid geld, forty five are in demesne, and five hides are the king's and twenty six and a half hides are "waste".

Change was to come to this village after the Norman Conquest for William was to give a large part of the Chipping Warden area to one of his knights, Ghilo de Picquiny by name, and his tenants at Stuchbury were Hugh and Landric. At the time of the Domesday Survey the population had dropped to sixteen people and it tells that there was land for five ploughs in the lordship, there were two slaves, five villagers, three smallholders and three other men with one plough.

There was also a wood three furlongs in length and two furlongs wide and this was almost certainly a field now called New Piece which is situated on the southern boundary of the village adjoining Greatworth, bordering the Welsh Lane. The measurements given in the Domesday Survey approximate to the size of the field and it was given the name of New Piece because it was the last piece of woodland to be reclaimed, and Reginald Isham who lived in Greatworth and died in circa 1900 recounted that his father remembered when it was reclaimed from woodland. A Mrs Baylis who lived in Greatworth, but had lived at the now derelict Stuchbury House as a girl, remembered her father who was by name Franklin telling her the same thing.

At this point there is another twist in the village history, and one must go back to the year 910 to an event that happened in France and was to influence the history of both Sulgrave and Stuchbury, for it was in that year that William of Aquitaine granted a Charter to the monks of Cluny at La Charite- sur Loire - sur Loire in Burgundy, an order under the Benedictine Rule which was to become very powerful.

It was over one hundred and fifty years later that one of William the conqueror's knights, William de Warenne and his wife Gundrada, set out on a pilgrimage to Rome but having reached La Charite-sur- Loire in Burgundy they were unable to go any further because of war between the Pope and the Emperor. During their stay at the Cluniac monastery they were so impressed by the piety and devotion of the monks that they asked Hugh the Prior if they could take some monks back with them to England and build them a church close to their castle at Lewes. Hugh gave them a monk called Lanzio and three others, and so, having gained the king's permission, the first Cluniac monastery in England was established.

Now the story returns to Northamptonshire. King William I had a niece called Judith whom he married to Waltheof, Earl of Northumberland and whom he created not only Earl of Northampton but also Earl of Huntingdon, at the same time giving him land in the county which included Stuchbury and Sulgrave. Judith was an unsatisfactory wife. She treated her husband cruelly and was instrumental in getting him beheaded at Winchester in 1076. At William's court at that time was a gallant knight called Sir Simon de Liz, and it was William's wish that he should marry Judith, but Judith objected, whether or not it was because he was lame in one leg one does not know, but he married her daughter Maud instead. Judith was deprived of all her lands which not only included Stuchbury and Sulgrave but houses, land and churches in Northampton as well as land at Woodford, Fawsley and Daventry. On marrying Maud, Simon de Liz was given all these lands as well as Waltheof's titles.

William had allotted land all over England to his Norman knights and at a moment when the monastic movement was fast spreading, it became the accepted thing among these knights to bestow land upon, or endow monasteries. Simon de Liz was no exception and gave land and houses and seven churches in Northampton to found the Cluniac Priory of St Andrew which he richly endowed. The Cluniacs were an order under the Benedictine rule but while the latter were entirely self-sufficient and led an ordered way of life based on the Gospel, the emphasis of the Cluniacs was on imparting the essentials of liturgical life and the splendours of ceremonial. The Cluniacs consisted of several large Mother Houses while others were priories in miniature, but unlike other orders the Cluniacs had satellite cells of usually four but never more than six monks, and a would be founder such a Simon de Liz would approach the Prior who would give four monks to take possession of an estate, which they would farm and also build a church and office. This is what happened at Stuchbury, Simon de Liz giving the monks two hides of land and where they built a church in 1190, dedicated to St John. The church stood in the field between Stuchbury Hall and Stuchbury Lodge and is now called Church Field. Evidence of the monks' fish ponds remain in the Long Meadow, and below Manor Farm two ponds on different levels are fed by water diverted from a spring. The monks at Sulgrave were a Grange growing the food for the mother house in Northampton and it was often along the old "green" lanes they travelled with their loaded pannier horses. The monks farmed the land to the east of the old windmill in Sulgrave where part of their barn remains. Grange monks were usually drawn from the English countryside, while those in a satellite cell such as Stuchbury were usually French or Italian, but most probably French.

There are many references to Stuchbury in the Cluniac records for when Simon de Liz died an attempt was made to dispossess the monks but Henry 1st by a confirmatory charter "commanded they should retain the land at Stotysbyria and would listen to no entreaty, but willed they should hold it of the lord David later King of Scotland" who had married Simon's widow Maud. In the reign of Henry 2nd the monks were certed (?) to have in their possession two hides of land at Stotesbury which included the church of St John, and the rectory was valued at 60s. In 1253 Richard de Amundeville, Lord of Thorpe released to the monks of Daventry all rights of advowson of the church at Stotesbury,. There are two entries in the year 1291 for in the reign of Edward 1st, a taxation document reveals that the temporalities of St Andrews Priory in Stotesbury, Sulgrave and Woodford are valued at 7 9s a year in land, rent, fruits of the earth, flocks and cattle and half a mark is paid the Prior of St Andrews, and Thomas Lovell is referred to as being steward of Stotesbury, Sulgrave and Woodford. It is interesting to note that Stotesbury is mentioned first as if it were the most important place, which it may well have been, for with farming flourishing the village population gradually rose. According to Poll Tax records there were fifty nine tax payers in 1377, this of course included boys over fourteen, but averaging four people to a household the population could easily have been about 250 people which made it a place of considerable size for those days. Four to a household may seem a very small number but apart from disease the rate of both infant and maternal mortality was high. How came it that this flourishing community was reduced to only four houses with parsonage and church gone by 1674?

Many factors led to the disappearance of the village. Initially the monastic order was partially responsible, for although in the early years the monks had farmed well, monastic records show as the years went by they began to lose their sense of devotion, became increasingly lazy and from 1300 onwards the strength of the movement began to fail and instead of farming the land themselves it was rented out. Revenues were bad and a poor account of the administration of that time is written from Richard Layton to Lord Cromwell in 1533 "At St Andrews in Northampton the house is in dette grethly, the landes solde and morgagede the fermes let owte and rent received beforehand XXvXX yeeres". Other things added to the monks unpopularity for the Hundred Years war with France had dragged on, and since dues from the monasteries went to the mother houses in France, it was seen in the light of subsidising the enemy, quite apart from the fact that the average Englishman did not like the foreign monks, more so when some 'misfit' from a French monastery was conveniently got out of the way by foisting him on an English house.

Other events were taking place in the country apart from the weakening of the monastic system. London was rapidly becoming an important trading centre and a wealthy middle class was emerging. During the Hundred Years war with France merchants were unable to travel abroad but as it came to a close, so trade sprung up again. England had long been famous for its cloth and cloth meant wool and wool, sheep. With the dissolution of the monasteries, and land being sold cheaply the well-to-do merchant realised the potential of sheep farming. Eviction of open field farmers was easy for at the end of the farming year immediately after harvest they were ordered to go, and the wealthy merchant had the capital to lay down the open fields to pasture, and wool stapling became the trade of the 16th century gentleman. It was the end of the supremacy of the plough not to be known again till 1940.

How did this affect Stuchbury? One looks to a north country family, the Washingtons by name, of Warton in Lancashire. Lawrence Washington was bailiff to Lord Parr who was acting as steward of the Kendal barony due to the minority of his nephew, and in the course of his duties Washington went to Northampton in 1529 on his patron's business, for Lord Parr's wife owned Horton, and there he married a widow called Elizabeth Gough who brought to him at her marriage land as well as a town house in Northampton. He left Lord Parr's household and became Mayor of Northampton in 1532. His wife subsequently died and he married again, this time to the widow of John Tomson of Sulgrave, but her maiden name was Amy Pargeter of the neighbouring village of Greatworth, and with this marriage she brought to him the manors and rectories of Stuchbury and Sulgrave as well as other lands which later Lawrence held of the Cluniac estate of St Andrews in Northampton. The possessions included two messuages in Sulgrave, a messuage being a dwelling place without buildings and land assigned to its use, and closes in Stuchbury, namely Townfield, Westfield, Millfield, the Middle close, the Lord's close, Oxhey and Sulgrave field. Sulgrave field until recently still went under that name and was a field on the north boundary of Manor Farm adjoining Mr Cave's land at Sulgrave and had the reputation of having got the most fertile land in the county. It has now lost its identity having been thrown together with another field and the hedges pulled up. So now Lawrence Washington was living in Sulgrave, what had happened to the monks?

Many had returned to secular life, others went in to the priesthood, but none of them suffered, for they all received a pension which was regularly paid, and the monasteries often became the foundation of the manor house as was the case in Sulgrave. St Andrews Priory was dissolved by Henry VIII on March 1st 1537 and the estate was re-granted to Washington and his wife by the Crown on March 9th 1539 and February 26th 1542. These two grants in respect of Stuchbury and Sulgrave were no more than an acquisition by fee simple of land he had tenanted before the dissolution of the monastery. The Washington cousins, the Spencers of Wormleighton, were amassing a fortune from wool-stapling and Lawrence followed suit. He went into partnership with his father-in-law Robert Pargeter of Greatworth and his wife's brother-in-law William Mole of Stuchbury in "exploiting the land primarily for sheep". So this led to the demise of Stuchbury as a flourishing village. Robert, Lawrence's son, who had been born in 1544 inherited Sulgrave and Stuchbury and the advowson of Stuchbury Church from his father, and Robert was, in collaboration with William Moles's son George and Robert Pargeter Jnr (nephew by marriage to Lawrence Washington) to continue to exploit the land for kine and sheep and it was said they had "scandalously pulled down not only the parsonage house and all or most part of the said town and parish houses of Stuchbury aforesaid also the Parish Church itself to make use of the land for wool stapling purposes". Again we hear "But Stuchbury, unluckily possessed no actual manorial residence, indeed, even the parish church and parsonage along with all or most part of the said town and parish houses had been pulled down by old Robert Washington prior to 1606 to make room for pasturage to the great depopulation of the common wealth and country roundabout".

According to Hearth Tax there were only four houses left in 1674, Stuchbury House in the valley by the Helmdon boundary, now a ruin, though still lived in the first quarter of this century, Stutchbury Lodge and Stuchbury Hall and Stutchbury Manor. John Mole lived a at Stuchbury till 1671 and he it was who held court for the hundred of Eadbaldesstowe in Gallows field at Stuchbury's boundary, and here a mound remained till late in the last century denoting where the court room had stood The Gallows stood in this field close up to the Welsh lane and it was here that cattle thieves were hung. The Welsh lane was a drovers' road that started from the Anchor Inn on the western side of the Clun Forest, and store cattle were driven down to the rich fattening pastures of Northamptonshire and Leicestershire, and then on to London. An old droving inn stands at the turn to Sulgrave, now known as Magpie Farm, and a stance lies opposite where cattle were put for the night. Another stance was at the entrance to Stuchbury from the Welsh lane called Butchers Close, but sadly this has been amalgamated with another field and the fine old piece of Saxon hedge bank demolished.

Where did the population go after pulling down of the village? Many people became vagrants on the roads, others would have gone to the nearest towns to find work and it was to Buckingham that the Stotesbury family went and became butchers, brewers and maltsters. Many live in the Buckingham area to this day though in 1852 William Webster Stuchbury emigrated to Australia where there are now many families of that name and their history is recorded in "Stotesburie These are our People". It is recorded that the family of Stotesbury were seated at Stotesbury and at Sulgrave as early as the reign of Edward III. Reference is made in Bridges History of Northamptonshire to Adam Stutesbiria (1232), John de Stutesburt (1334) and William de Stutesbury in 1457. Thomas de Stutesbury who was last in the direct male line and died in 1563 left his daughter Susan, Elington Manor in Sulgrave, which had been bought by his ancestor John, circa 1350. Thomas was the last Stotesbury to own land in the parish and was said to have grazed a thousand sheep on its pastures. Thomas's daughter Susan married Robert Leeson of Whitfield. In recent years two families, unknown to each other but both coming from Iowa in the USA, have visited Stuchbury, for they both bore the name of Leeson being descendants of the Leesons of Elington Manor. After this the land was granted out in parcels, and from that day to this has changed hands continuously, sometimes owners farming the land themselves sometimes letting it out to tenants. Whoever rents Jades meadow has to pay 15 of the rent to the Dering Charity in Greatworth for higher education. Did the farmhouses remain the same? It is hardly likely and they were most probably enlarged using stone from the church. This was certainly the case at the Manor farm where it could be seen that the lower kitchen and the room above were the original, other rooms were added and another storey for on the west end of the house. Inscribed on the wall were the figures 1736 and below it the initials E R. The late Sir Giles Isham of Lamport Hall said this would have been a man called Edmund Reeve, a Helmdon stonemason who would probably have enlarged the house using stone from the old church, and much church stone had been used both in the house and farm buildings, sections of mullioned window, sections of base of pillars, fragments of stone carving. In the wall between the kitchen and the dining room at the Manor farm is a large bacon- curing cupboard the entrance to which is through a door in the dining room, but beyond this lay a tiny secret room. Mr Harry Watson of Helmdon said he had bricked it up many years ago and it was wide enough to take a chair and long enough for a man to lie down. At Stuchbury Hall the cellar is paved with circular stones which would probably be from a stone spiral staircase in the church or monastic building and also in the garden are interesting flat stones. At Stuchbury Lodge there is a Saxon coffin in the yard and in the old pantry inscribed paving slabs (or could they be gravestones?).

So the houses remain to this day but what of the land? Since the days of laying down to pasture for sheep this area had been nine tenths grassland and the dairy herd was an essential part of most farms. With the coming of the Second World War the plough came back again and before the war was over the tractor had succeeded the horse, the combine the binder. It was not until some years later that the countryside began to feel the impact of chemicals, the pesticides and insecticides that were in their way to bring a measure of destruction for the third time. In the Manor Farm area hedges were grubbed up and fields put together to accommodate modern machinery, grassland was sprayed to kill "weeds". The white clover, bugle, dog daisies, yarrow, quaking grass, cowslips and salad burnet and many more were eradicated, so the larks, their nesting places among the herbage gone, they went too. The grass fertilised frequently by nitrogen grows thick and strong and with no closely cropped turf to run on the yellow wagtails left. The marshy places were drained and filled in so that the bog chickweed, the marsh valerian and the water loving veronica were no longer seen or the reed bunting. Spray drifted from Jade's meadow and the early purple orchids and the twayblade were seen no more. Perhaps one of the greatest losses about 1960 was the felling of five splendid great oak trees approaching maturity and a large colony of June flowering orchids. The oaks can never come back but hopefully many of the wild flowers will and the Saxon double hedge banks still stand as a reminder of when it became a village 2,000 years ago.


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